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The joke was insensitive, but it was sandwiched in between "I love you," and, if you listen closely, I believe Rock even murmured, "Joza. That was a good one."
Joza is an informal term for "the most beautiful woman in the world."
Honestly, I was deeply disappointed in Will Smith, and I found myself in a very awkward position of trying to understand and rationalize both sides: I am a fan of each individual.
Pretty much everyone was shocked by the controversy: It's on every major news outlet, it's constantly playing on YouTube, and it's basically broken the internet at this point!
Will Smith was out of line. Period.
But then there's the other side: Black women are the most unprotected group in this country.
So many of them have been killed by the police, yet the press, it seems, has made a point of not covering a lot of those cases.
On top of this, the beauty standards arguably reflect the preferences of the white supremacist movement in America: Blonde-haired, blue-eyed women are put on a pedestal for their appearance in Hollywood.
As if being ridiculed for her hair in front of a bunch of white Hollywood elites wasn't enough, Jada was already suffering from alopecia: A medical condition where a person's hair falls out.
By the way, there have been countless jokes about Will Smith's open marriage recently.
That's what works for them, and, just because it doesn't fall into the overarching Christian narrative of this country does not mean it's inherently wrong.
The humiliation and alienation has probably cut deep and been very real.
That does not excuse violence on the part of Will Smith.
However, it might explain his extremely emotional reaction: A lot of black women have been moved that a black man would stand up for his wife like that.
I support him protecting his woman. I don't support him hitting a comedian in front of the world.
There's a difference.
I've been disappointed in Will since I've always been a fan of his. Although Chris has always been hilarious—at least sometimes!—in my book, there are bits of his that are so chauvinistic they're too painful to watch and not at all funny in my eyes.
The whole incident was deeply disheartening, especially during a notably inclusive Oscars showing that celebrated black culture and deaf culture in a way I hadn't seen before.
Will Smith's Actions Were Unacceptable
I understand why the guy did what he did, but I do not think it was okay: It seems that the look on his wife's face may have triggered him.
When he was younger, his husband beat his mother until she bled, and he did nothing. This time around, I guess he rationalized it in his head by telling himself that he was protecting the woman he loved.
This was a cruel and unnecessary action. He didn't need to humiliate and belittle the guy on national television before shouting expletives at him.
You don't hit somebody. Period.
I can see why he stood up for his wife though, but words would have been more powerful in this instance, and far less damaging to his career.
Of course, hindsight is 2020: I think a lot of us have reacted emotionally when a person hurt us; it just wasn't in front of the entire world on one of the biggest stage in America.
While the joke was seemingly innocent, it is loaded if you really look at it: Black women have been oppressed, ridiculed, and discriminated consistently for their hair: Regardless of how they choose to style it, it has long been seen—unfairly—as unprofessional by many of their white colleagues in very recent times.
Historically, certain white people literally thought black people were animals—which apparently gave them the license to kill them and hang them from trees in their bigoted minds—partially because their hair looked different: They compared it to sheep's wool.
I've always found black hair to be beautiful, but that doesn't change our history unfortunately.
That is enough for a black woman to bear in front of all of these Hollywood elites, many of whom are white.
Too much to bear.
On top of this, she is suffering from alopecia: A condition where your hair falls out, and I'm sure that's been really hard on the family.
You can start to see how Will Smith probably felt like a pressure-cooker inside during the event, and why he eventually exploded.
That doesn't make hitting someone okay, but the joke arguably crossed a line.
We Glorify Men for Being Violent, Then Condemn Them When They Are
Will grew up in West Philadelphia.
There's already a narrative in America that glorifies men hitting each other: Soldiers are heroes; a man who hits another fellow for disrespecting his wife in a club is seen as a standup guy; video games literally mimic people killing other people; the list goes on.
For the longest time, men have been encouraged to be violent towards other men. They're taught this while they're watching movies as children:
- Their fictional heroes are warriors who destroy empires and defend their women
- Soldiers are heroic for killing people and destroying families
- It's okay—even commendable—to protect your wife and children, even if it means murdering another man. That's the narrative surrounding guns in this country. That's the narrative surrounding chivalry in this country. That's the narrative surrounding masculinity in this country, and it's harmful.
- Violent men are seen as strong, because all of men's Western heroes are violent.
- Men aren't supposed hit women, but they're allowed hit other men if they're disrespected. That's the societal narrative.
This is what men are taught from a young age, and, quite frankly, it's extremely frustrating for all of us: Women have to deal with emotionally unavailable male partners who somehow believe being violent and mean is commendable—It's hurtful and disappointing.
Men have to deal with humiliation whenever they cry or express any emotion other than anger, so, too often, they end up beating their wives, hurting other men, or turning to drugs to numb the pain.
While of course this isn't true of everyone, it is for a lot of people, and it's extremely harmful to society.
Hollywood Is Eager to See Will Smith as "The Angry Black Men"
Do you know how many white men have been given awards who were literally pedophiles?
No one took their Oscars away.
It's tragically comical that O.J. Simpson and Mel Gibson suddenly have something to say about how terrible Will Smith's actions were: Yes, they were unacceptable, but I mean, c'mon, these men have no right to sit on their soapboxes considering their history of abuse...
I doubt the news coverage would have been quite as intense if a white guy has slapped somebody.
I'm just saying.
There's already a harmful narrative in this country about how all black people are angry and violent, especially black men.
First of all, I can see why many members of the black community are upset given past and present injustices that ruthlessly continue in America.
Second of all, I cannot understand the black experience because I'm white, but I can empathize with how cruel people can be to other human beings simply because they look a certain way, and I think a lot of white Hollywood elites don't understand just how hurtful the joke was.
Lastly, there are plenty of individuals in the black community who aren't exactly outraged, but just tired of having to walk out of the door every day and deal with racism: They're exhausted. They carry on and find happiness in a lot of cases, but America does not make that an easy thing to do.
In Chris's defense, humor is subjective and I'm not exactly sure what his intentions were: He was a class act during the entire situation and responded with a great deal of empathy when he could have involved the cops, probably because he knew how intense it was for a black man to be put in handcuffs by this country's predominantly racist police force.
He is known for his controversial humor and was arguably just poking fun at the Smiths because he was doing his job as a comedian.
Maybe he wanted the joke to hurt. Maybe he didn't.
The reaction was still unwarranted.
By the way, if he did not know Jada had alopecia, he really should have done his research. I find it hard to believe, given this was such a high-brow event, that the man had absolutely no idea what about her condition.
He should have.
Chris Rock has edgy comedic stylings and has been known to make fun of people for their diseases before: He sees everything through the lens of humor, for better or for worse.
If he did know—which I'm pretty sure was the case—he made a point of sandwiching the remark between compliments, so he seemed to be pretty well-intended to me.
Of course, there was that joke in 2016 he made about Jada not being invited to the Oscars, which I'm almost certain hit a nerve, but maybe Chris figured he was picking on "his own kind" for lack of a better phrase.
He has always used humor to counter racism, and the 2016 Oscars were no exception.
The Clip that Resurfaced: Why Is Chris Rock Blamed for White Men Using Racial Slurs in His Presence?
A clip has recently resurfaced.
Chris Rock was talking about comedy with Ricky Gervais, Louis C.K., and Jerry Seinfeld, and, during part of the conversation, the n-word was casually thrown around by the first two.
Chris Rock smiles a bit and that's it: He doesn't tell them how inappropriate it is.
Given his comedy bit about when it's appropriate for a white person to use this racial slur, I doubt he found it acceptable, but the guy had a lot to lose:
- He'd worked hard to make a name for himself.
- He's recently mentioned that he's terrified of getting angry because his rage nearly killed a boy during his youth, after he'd been bullied relentlessly, and he's struggled with this for a very long time.
- He was amongst his comedic idols.
- He did not want to be seen as the angry black man.
- He probably feared looking uptight around his colleagues.
Why do people blame the black guy for being verbally abused?
Blame the white people who had terrible form and used a deeply offensive word; they're the ones who are at fault. Chris Rock shouldn't have had to deal with this derogatory term being thrown around by white men on a public form, and these two used their privilege as an excuse to oppress under the guise of humor, which was unacceptable.
It wasn't Chris Rock's fault that ignorant white men used the n-word. They did it because they were power-hungry and they knew he had a lot to lose if he spoke up.
Unfortunately, that's what a lot of white men do when women and black men finally have a seat at the table.
It's nothing new.
Somehow HBO was 100% okay with old white guys throwing around the n-word even though we've supposedly made progress.
It should not have been said in the first place, and they should have been held accountable for their actions.
Stop blaming the black guy blamed when white people are being racist!
Famous People Are Human Too
Will Smith has always been a hero of mine.
I've always found Chris Rock funny for the most part, although some of his bits have come off as so chauvinistic they're too painful for me to watch: The one about beating women was too much for me to bear quite frankly.
I've always enjoyed The Oscars from afar, but, if I were an actor who had worked 16 hours a day and given my blood, sweat, and tears to a project in order to entertain, inform, or captivate the public, before proceeding to spend a generous sum of money to look my best, I might feel differently.
The night itself is ironic: Hollywood's worst and best all wrapped into one, where people are publicly torn apart in an intimately cruel manner that is always personal.
The rest of us get sick pleasure watching these entertainers we've somehow convinced ourselves are perfect and have no problems be humiliated and celebrated simultaneously while their nerves are extremely high in anticipation of who will or will not win.
Maybe it's time for us to remember that our idols have feelings too.
They're only human, after all.
© 2022 Daniella Cressman